Flabellum

Flabellum

(fan; Gr. ῥιπίδιον). Among the evidences of the Eastern origin of the Christian religion is the use of this implement during the celebration of the eucharist. Having its birthplace and earliest home in a climate teeming with insect life, where food exposed uncovered is instantly blackened and polluted by swarms of flies, it was natural that the bread and wine of its sacramental feast should be guarded from defilement by the customary precautions. The flabellum having been once introduced among the furniture of the altar for necessary uses, in process of time became one of its regular ornaments, and was thus transferred to the more temperate climates of the West, where its original purpose was almost forgotten.

The earliest notice of it as a liturgical ornament is in the Apostolical Constitutions, which direct that after the oblation, before and during the prayer of consecration, two deacons are to stand, one on either side of the altar, holding a flabellum made of thin membrane (parchment), or of peacock feathers, or of fine linen, and quietly drive away the flies and other small insects, that they strike not against the vessels. In the liturgies also of Chrysostom and Basil, the deacons are directed to fan the holy oblations diiring the prayer of consecration. This fanning ceased with the Lord's Prayer, and was not resumed. Early writers furnish many notices of the use of the flabellum as an essential part of the liturgical ceremonial. Moschus (Prat. Spirit. 196), when narrating how some shepherd boys near Apamea were imitating the celebration of the eucharist in childish sport, is careful to mention that two of the children stood on either side of the celebrant, vibrating their handkerchiefs like fans.

As the deacons were the officers appointed to wave the fan over the. sacred oblations, its delivery constitutes a part of many of the Oriental forms for the ordination to the diaconate. After the stole has been given and placed on the left shoulder, the holy fan is put into the deacon's hands, and he is placed "at the side of the holy table to fan;" and again, the deacon is directed to take the fan and stand at the right side of the table, and wave it over the holy things. SEE ELEVATION OF THE HOST.

Although there is no mention of the flabellum in the Latin ritual books, there is no doubt that it was used by the Western Church at an early time. The fan appears to, have gradually fallen into disuse there, and to have almost entirely ceased by the 14th century. At the present day, the only relic of the usage is in the magnificent fans of peacocks' feathers carried by the attendants of the pope in solemn processions on certain great festivals.

Though the original intention of the fan was one of simple utility, various mystical meanings collected round it. Reference has been already made to the: idea that these feather fans typified the cherubim, and seraphim surrounding the holy throne. Germanus also holds (Contemp. Rev. Eccles. page 157) that the vibration of the fans typifies the tremor and astonishment of the angels at our Lord's Passion. We find the same idea in a passage from the monk Job, given by Photius, who also states (Cod. 5:25) that another purpose of the vibration of the fans was the raising of the mind from the material elements of the eucharist, and fixing them on the spiritual realities.

See Martigny, De Usage du Flabellum ; Bingham, Christ. Antiq. 8:6, § 21; 15:3, § 6; Bona, Rer. Liturg. 1:25, § 6; Augusti, Christl. Archaeol, 3:536 sq.; Archaeol. Jour. 5:200; 14:17; Smith, Dict. of Christ. Antiq. s.v.

 
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